State program is source of ID theft
A Wahiawa Women, Infants and Children (WIC) Program employee is placed on leave
A state employee allegedly misused Social Security numbers and other personal information of at least five families participating in a state aid program.
The employee, who is believed to have accessed the information through a database at the Wahiawa Women, Infants and Children Program at the Wahiawa Civic Center, opened credit card accounts and made unauthorized purchases.
Yesterday, officials removed Social Security numbers for all clients in the Wahiawa unit's database.
The state auditor is currently doing an audit of all state departments that maintain personal information, Dr. Chiyome Fukino, director of the Department of Health, said.
Health Department officials also are trying to determine how personal information is handled.
Officials believe this is the first time someone stole the identity of residents who receive aid from WIC.
Created 30 years ago, it serves low-income women, infants and children up to the age of 5 by supplying food, nutrition education, breast-feeding support, and health and social service referrals.
"Everybody is appalled," said Linda Chock, chief of the WIC Services Branch. "I would say we are all in shock."
All WIC staff members were counseled on data confidentiality and the trust clients have with the department, Chock said.
"We're here to serve the public. The suspect had destroyed the feeling of security, and we certainly do not want clients to stop coming for our help because of this incident," she said.
Health Department officials declined to release information on the employee due to the investigation. Detailed information on the unauthorized purchases was not disclosed.
But officials said that in mid-December, staff at the Wahiawa unit received a letter from one of the victims notifying them that an account for a bank credit card was opened under her name without her authorization.
At the same time, staff also noticed mail sent to the office from credit card companies under clients' names, and credit card companies made calls to the Wahiawa site to speak to certain clients.
Staff members noticed a pattern and pieced together the suspicious activities.
On Jan. 18 the employee was placed on administrative leave without pay while the investigation is pending. No arrest has been made.
The Honolulu Police Department's Financial Fraud Detail has initiated an investigation for at least one of the victims. The state attorney general's office and administrators with the Health Department also are conducting an investigation.
As a precautionary measure, about 11,500 families -- including many military families -- formerly or currently registered with the Wahiawa unit were notified. Clients were advised to check their credit card history with the credit bureau, place a fraud alert on their credit card files and notify the police of any suspicious activity.
The WIC Program is funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Money is dispersed by the Health Department.
Anyone who might have been victimized is encouraged to call the WIC Program at (808) 586-8080.